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Quality of Life: Rural’s Golden Ticket to Economic Vitality?

sprig by Posted in Blandin Foundation, Vibrant Rural

Good jobs continue to be the main concern and top priority for rural Minnesota communities, according to our 2013 Rural Pulse survey. Minnesotans say that recovery from the recession is not reaching all of us equally. Low-income Minnesotans, in particular, strongly believe that tough economic times are not over.

“Everyone knows someone who’s been affected. It’s been going on so long that people are just emotionally exhausted,” said a Mental Health Professional in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Nearly three in five rural residents feel that there are inadequate living-wage job opportunities in their community. Furthermore, 59 percent of lower-income residents and 53 percent of rural residents overall feel that their community does not do a good job attracting new businesses that can provide high-quality jobs.

So how do we move forward?

One answer might be found in the Soul of the Community Project, conducted by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. This study looks at what drives people’s attachment to a place, and the economic benefits that can result because of that attachment.

MinnPost’s Marlys Harris features Katherine Loflin, a placemaking expert and lead researcher on the Soul of the Community Project, in a recent article. Here Loflin explains, “Loved places seem to do better economically.” She makes the case that today’s millennial workforce (25-34) holds quality of life to a high standard when making career decisions.

This is good news for rural Minnesotans, who said in our 2013 Rural Pulse study that they believe the quality of life in their community will improve over the next five years (74%).

“So if heartstrings translate hard cash or greater prosperity, what sets them to twanging?” Harris asks. The three attachment factors that ranked highest were aesthetics, social offerings and openness.

Again, good news. Here’s why:

– Three in four rural Minnesotans believe their community is a vibrant place to live and work.
– 59% of rural Minnesotans agree that their community has adequate cultural and social offerings.
– 82% of rural Minnesotans believe that their community is a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds and perspectives.

Not only are rural Minnesotans optimistic about their quality of life both now and in the future, their urban counterparts are also taking notice. In the past two years, 17% of urban Minnesotans have considered moving to a rural community because of the quality of life.

As rural leaders look to the future it will be important to identify and leverage the assets in their communities and explore them through a new lens of economic opportunity. A quote from Arthur Schopenhauer says it well, “the task is not so much to see what no one has seen, but to think what no one has yet thought about that which everyone sees.”

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